Monday, March 31, 2014

Researching a Company You Might Want to Work For

I work in high technology, and in particular, the video game industry. What's important to us is that we believe in the company itself and where it is heading. The best way to predict the future is to look at the past, so I recommend that people start at the beginnings of the company. And that they find out if they have had a track record of success, even including whether they adapted to failure. At that point, you can make an informed decision about their ability to succeed in the future. 

To do this, you need to do some very specific research. Most of this, you can do online, so I'll give you some guidance to get started.

Research their history.
Go to www.archive.org, and find the Wayback Machine. Take their current web URL (example: www.google.com) and enter it into the Wayback Machine. You can then go back in time to their prior website versions. You can then see how they changed and modified their website over time. In this way, you can find all the data you need. 

Research their culture.
Find their mission statement. Do they even have one? What does it mean to their company? Do they follow their mission? Does it shine through in their products?

Research their products and / or services.
Online. Offline. Experience them if you can. Read reviews if you can't. Do they create great products or services you would be proud to work on or provide? Would you be delighted to work there and be excited to wake up every day to go there and create magic?

Research their people by finding key names from their website.
Start with their company's web page, and then look at employees. Now, dig into LinkedIn.com. Look them all up. Dig around. How many other employees or ex-employees can you find? Check their dates of employment. What is their turnover like? How long do people work there at different levels of the company? Do the high level people stay around? What about the mid and lower level employees? Pay attention to the ones that are at or above your level. 

Research their location.
Are there other companies in the same field nearby? If you lose your job, will you be forced to move?

Research their future.
What direction is their CEO taking them? Do you want to go with them on that journey?

Conclusion
If you like what you see, write your resume to match their job description and be sure to take into account what you "feel" about the company when you do the re-write. And tell them why you're interested in the things you found in your research. The location, the products, the length of service of their employees. Whatever you can say that you truly believe. No lies. Ever. Best of luck to you!

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Billy Joe Cain is an Executive Recruiter in the video game industry and has worked for Electronic Arts and started three game studios in Austin, TX. Since 1992, he has created games such as Wing Commander: Prophecy and SpongeBob SquarePants: Revenge of the Flying Dutchman.

Please connect with him on LinkedIn and mention you read his blog! www.linkedin.com/in/billyjoecain

Monday, March 24, 2014

How Do You Get A Video Game Studio Hiring Manager's Attention?

To answer that question, I'll tell you a story. It's about how I got my first job in the game industry. Maybe something here will spark something for you! 

While I'm not like most hiring managers, this is the kind of stuff that gets me intrigued enough to call someone in for an interview. 

Your mileage may vary.

In 1991, a friend of mine got a job at a video game studio called Origin Systems, and when I found out that was a real, honest to goodness career, I decided right then that was what I was going to do with my life.

After I was hired, I stayed on the team, Swing.bat.
My friend that showed me the light of the
industry, Steve, is at the bottom left. 
For the next year and a half, I was doing everything I could do to get their attention. I would come up and bring lunch or dinner for my friend, I would talk with everyone in the office, come in late to play games with his office mates, and even got on their company softball team because they were a man short!

When a job would come open that I was qualified for, I would be the first to apply. I was finally called in for one interview, but didn't get that position, so I decided to amp it up a notch for the next one, because I was determined to work there.

It's the wave of the future
They had an internal newsletter that was all about their projects and employees, and I had just gotten a new Mac at home (this was 1991) with desktop publishing tools, so I did a mock version of their newsletter "from the future," where I wrote stories about their current projects and how I helped them at pivotal moments to get them out the door.

This was, essentially, my resume.

I printed it on brightly colored paper and one night distributed it throughout the building.

They called me for the very next opening and I got the job. They had seen and loved my efforts and said they were looking for someone with that kind of fire, tenacity, and creativity. And having connections in the building was good, too, but that didn't help the first time, so I think that could have gone either way. The place was small at the time.

Finding a place where my creativity was appreciated changed my life.

Challenge yourself to find a way to get people's attention through a creative way to connect with the hiring managers. What have YOU tried?

---------------------------

Billy Joe Cain is a gamification subject matter expert that has been providing gamification solutions to educational companies and game testing companies since 2010. 

Alongside his gamification consulting, he is an executive producer in the video game industry and has worked for Electronic Arts and started three game studios in Austin, TX. Since 1992, he has created games such as Wing Commander: Prophecy and SpongeBob SquarePants: Revenge of the Flying Dutchman. 

Please connect with him on LinkedIn! www.linkedin.com/in/billyjoecain. Mention you read this blog for bonus points!

How Do You Get A Video Game Studio Hiring Manager's Attention?

To answer that question, I'll tell you a story. It's about how I got my first job in the game industry. Maybe something here will spark something for you! 

While I'm not like most hiring managers, this is the kind of stuff that gets me intrigued enough to call someone in for an interview. 

Your mileage may vary.

In 1991, a friend of mine got a job at a video game studio called Origin Systems, and when I found out that was a real, honest to goodness career, I decided right then that was what I was going to do with my life.

After I was hired, I stayed on the team, Swing.bat.
My friend that showed me the light of the
industry, Steve, is at the bottom left. 
For the next year and a half, I was doing everything I could do to get their attention. I would come up and bring lunch or dinner for my friend, I would talk with everyone in the office, come in late to play games with his office mates, and even got on their company softball team because they were a man short!

When a job would come open that I was qualified for, I would be the first to apply. I was finally called in for one interview, but didn't get that position, so I decided to amp it up a notch for the next one, because I was determined to work there.

It's the wave of the future
They had an internal newsletter that was all about their projects and employees, and I had just gotten a new Mac at home (this was 1991) with desktop publishing tools, so I did a mock version of their newsletter "from the future," where I wrote stories about their current projects and how I helped them at pivotal moments to get them out the door.

This was, essentially, my resume.

I printed it on brightly colored paper and one night distributed it throughout the building.

They called me for the very next opening and I got the job. They had seen and loved my efforts and said they were looking for someone with that kind of fire, tenacity, and creativity. And having connections in the building was good, too, but that didn't help the first time, so I think that could have gone either way. The place was small at the time.

Finding a place where my creativity was appreciated changed my life.

Challenge yourself to find a way to get people's attention through a creative way to connect with the hiring managers. What have YOU tried?

---------------------------

Billy Joe Cain is a gamification subject matter expert that has been providing gamification solutions to educational companies and game testing companies since 2010. 

Alongside his gamification consulting, he is an executive producer in the video game industry and has worked for Electronic Arts and started three game studios in Austin, TX. Since 1992, he has created games such as Wing Commander: Prophecy and SpongeBob SquarePants: Revenge of the Flying Dutchman. 

Please connect with him on LinkedIn! www.linkedin.com/in/billyjoecain. Mention you read this blog for bonus points!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Staying at Work After Your Work is Done

A reporter asked for some "examples from individuals who have had to twiddle their thumbs waiting for the boss to leave (because you can't leave first)." They were also looking for "stories from individuals who can't leave the job early even though there's nothing to do."

This is something I take very seriously, so here's what they received:

​I work in the video game industry, and this​ ​problem​​ i​s rampant. It is compounded by the fact that we have 8 flexible hours ​in a day ​that can start as late as 10am and end as early as 4pm. I have had ​an ​employee that even would get to work at 6am and do a 10 hour shift and ​his boss didn't even know it because he didn't get into the office until 11am. They thought the ​"​6am guy​"​ was not doing full days, when he was actually the most productive person on the team because he got 4 hours of uninterrupted work because most of the company didn't arrive until 10am.

But that's not my story.

On software teams, you often work in short, two week bursts, called Sprints. At the beginning, everyone agrees on what needs to be done, and each member of the entire team is asked to do a full ​80 hours​ over two weeks. How it gets done isn't important; it just must get done.​ And it must be completed within two regular work weeks. That's the entire process.​

​Our team​ decided to get to work early because the office would be empty for a couple of hours as most people ​in the office ​came in at 10am.

Working this way, our team completed all of the items on the feature list and even added new features that weren't part of the ​plan, although they were on the remainder of the feature list​ that we would be implementing later​.

​After the Sprint, ​we demonstrated the software to the ​head of the studio, who told us​, not that we completed the Sprint, but ​that we should have been able to get more done. This made no sense to anyone on the team, so I asked what would make him say that. His reply: "I was here at 7pm every night, and the other team was, too. If you had actually worked full days, you would have done it. You didn't work hard enough."

It became apparent that this was what was expected. We had to be in the building when he was. And "work harder." To what end? He would not say. The entire culture of the company was shifted at that moment, and not in a way anyone could understand.

The company slowly imploded afterwards, and I fully believe the nucleus of that implosion was the disrespect he showed the hard working employees that day. Our home lives were less important than his perception of what work is actually being completed. 

Now, is that the type of company you'd want to work for? Not me. Your boss needs to define what's needed and to what standard. Then, when your work is done for the day... go home!

Monday, March 10, 2014

How Does "Crunch Time" (mandatory 60+ hours a week over a long period of time) Affect you Physically and Mentally?

When I first started working on a presentation on Toxic Development Environments for the Austin Chapter of the International Game Developers' Association (Austin IGDA), I had really given this a lot of thought because I knew I had been damaged by the overtime I had worked over the decades



The whole 15 minute talk is right here. and you can download the slideshow here.

It was heartfelt because wow, a lot of these environments were lived through by yours truly. I was really upset when I got off the stage and needed a minute to get myself together. Yep. It's that bad sometimes. 

Ideally, this blog should result in a series of in-person discussions with game developers sharing their experiences with therapists, preceded by mutual non-disclosure agreements. A little more formal than Alcoholics Anonymous, because, well, you'll lose your job if you get caught bitching or telling people how it is at your job or your old job. Complaining about people? Wow. Slander. Really. And when I get the time to put this together, I will. But more importantly... let MY pain move YOU to make this happen in your own town. It's a movement that needs to happen. 

In person, the idea is to talk about how crunch has affected you physically, mentally, and the like. We simply HAVE to discuss this in public, where others that have lived to tell about it can share their stories

You are NOT alone. 

This blog isn't going to be a huge diatribe. It's just going to give you some tools to read about this. To start the conversation.

This blog isn't going to walk you through how to "change things at your office." It's going to give you some information that you may choose to share at your office OR maybe even change the way you run your office. 

In the game industry, crunch is RAMPANT. In fact, I've heard it's this way in every "creative" industry. If you've never been subjected to this torture, it may not even make sense. For those of you that have experienced it, I know your pain and you have my sympathy. It simply does NOT have to be that way. Really. It doesn't. 

You are smart enough to do this research yourselves; I'm just going to give you some places to look. Dig in wherever you think you need to go. The rest is up to you

Online Resources for You to Research. Pick Your Poison.

Abusive Managers
A “manager” could be a peer, an immediate supervisor, the owner of the company, an untenable contract, or a publisher. Abuse comes in many forms, verbal, mental and physical. This abuse also affects your friends and family.
Some Mental Health / Self-Assessment Resources
Resources exist that allow you to get help for yourself or others that are suffering through crunch and/or are in toxic environments.


Crunch Effects
How does “crunch” affect you, your friends, your mind, your body, and your family? Oddly enough, this subject has been studied in other industries ad nauseam. Studies point to so many health issues, both physical and mental, that I’ll just skip the details. 

Productivity Issues Caused by Crunch
Overtime is bad for your project. And ultimately bad for your employer.
Productivity Issues Caused by Lack of Sleep During Crunch
These two articles actually suggest one specific feedback mechanism by which excessive overtime self-loads for failure beyond a limited timeframe.
Health Risks of Crunch
Yes, crunch is actually proven to be bad for your health in many ways. There are some serious humanitarian concerns.
Illnesses, Injuries, and Health Behaviors
Overtime is bad for your body. And ultimately bad for your employer.
Turnover and Depression Caused by Crunch
Crunch is bad for employee retention. DUH! It is possible that this is something that can be brought up to the HR department because their goal is to keep employees employed and healthy. Your mileage may vary.
  • Turnover and ambivalence Observation on long term HR impact. Anecdotal evidence is presented, but the consulting firm at least claims it bases its conclusions on information gathered from exit interviews.
  • Major depression 
Inspirational Books
No talk on this subject should leave you hanging. Here are some books that help create sustainable environments and contain actionable ideas that you can implement immediately. People swear by these. Really. Just buy them and start reading. Now!
In conclusion
Let me know if I missed anything that YOU have found. Or share your stories. Don't worry, it's safe here. Well, maybe it's safe. Who knows if your employers are lurking here? Kidding! 

Well, sort of.



--------------------------

Billy Cain started his game industry career at Origin Systems in 1992, and has participated in the creation of over 200 hit games for home game systems, mobile platforms, and PC / Mac, and has launched three game development studios in Austin, Texas. He believes that games are going to save the world through improving brain plasticity in adolescents as well as making education fun. 

He has worked too much crunch and is currently trying to make it up to his family. 

Monday, March 3, 2014

Gamification-Focused Analysis of "Reality is Broken: How Games Make us Better and How They Can Change the World" by Jane McGonigal

GAMIFICATION
I recently read a book on how games can change the world through gamification called Reality is Broken: How Games Make us Better and How They Can Change the World, by Jane McGonigal, and wanted to share my thoughts on how companies that are offering gamification as a service can adapt her main points into creating a fantastic user experience. 

This post uses her exact text quite liberally. I wanted the basis of what I wrote to start with her words. 

In short, her take is that "reality" is boring and that games are "way more fun." This is, of course. an oversimplification, but on the surface it makes a lot of sense. I have tried to summarize her major points that need to be addressed in the last section, numbered from 1-14. 

Executive summary: 
  • Reality, compared to games, is broken. And essentially... sucks.
  • Games give us something to do when there is nothing to do... their serious cultivation is perhaps our only salvation. 
  • Reality doesn't have the level of purpose of games
  • Where, in reality, is that "gamer" sense of being fully alive, focused, and engaged in every moment?
  • There are at least 14 ways to modify reality to make it more game-like, and therefore more enjoyable to "players"
  • These 14 items should be considered in every gamification solution for their merit and applicability to that situation. 
Reality is Broken
In today's society, computer and video games are fulfilling GENUINE HUMAN NEEDS that the real world is currently unable to satisfy. Games are providing rewards that reality is not. They are teaching and inspiring and engaging us in ways that reality is not. They are bringing us together in ways that reality is not.

Humans hunger for more satisfying work, a stronger sense of community, and a more engaging and meaningful life. 

We are starving for purpose, and games are feeding us. 

What if we used this power for good and made games to make reality better and more engaging? 

My Goal
Find ways to apply the intrinsic motivation of video games (play) to changing behaviors at work. What if we can make work more fun?

Facts (as of 2011):
  • 69 percent of all heads of household play computer and video games
  • 97 percent of youth play computer and video games
  • 40 percent of all gamers are women
  • One out of Four gamers are over the age of 50
  • The average game player is 35 years old and has been playing for 12 years
  • Most gamers expect to continue playing games for the rest of their lives
  • 61% of CEOs, CFOs, and other senior executives take daily game breaks at work. 
According to Rob Fahey in 2008... "It's inevitable: soon we will all be gamers."

Based upon the above facts and trends... In the 21st Century, games will be a primary platform for enabling the future. 

How are we going to harness this power? Hopefully for good, but before we can do this, we need to understand WHY and HOW games are doing a better job of providing us with the purpose that reality is not. 


PART ONE - "Why Games Make Us Happy"

What is a Game?
One DEFINITION of a game: Playing a game is the voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles. 

All games share four defining traits: a GOAL, RULES, a FEEDBACK SYSTEM, and VOLUNTARY PARTICIPATION. 
  • Goals provide a SENSE OF PURPOSE
  • Rules unleash CREATIVITY and FOSTER STRATEGIC THINKING.
  • Feedback systems tell a player how close they are to a goal. This feedback serves a PROMISE of what is achievable and MOTIVATION to keep on going. 
  • Voluntary participation ESTABLISHES COMMON GROUND. Freedom to leave ensures that the work is PLEASURABLE and SAFE. 
Given that reality does not match what we do inside of games... we need to fix reality so it makes life more enjoyable. 

How to fix reality, with a nod to video games in each step of the way. 
Each of the 14 are followed with some examples / ideas of how to incorporate them into gamification strategies and implementation:

1) REALITY NEEDS Unnecessary obstacles: Compared to games, reality is too easy. Games challenge us with voluntary obstacles and help us put our personal strengths to better use.

Filling progress bars, earning badges, completing daily missions, tracking the number of times you perform an action, climbing a leaderboard, unlocking decorations for your avatar, and keeping a score are all examples of unnecessary obstacles. They give meaning to games.

2) REALITY NEEDS Emotional activation: Compared to games, reality is depressing. Games focus our energy, with relentless optimism, on something we're good at and enjoy.

Users that can find something to identify and feel successful with in your product are much more happy with their experience. Taking into account the various player types and providing experiences for each provides you a better chance of users emotionally attaching to your product. Here's a take of player types as the apply to gamification: http://www.gamification.co/2013/08/12/a-new-perspective-on-the-bartle-player-types-for-gamification/

3) REALITY NEEDS More satisfying work: Compared to games, reality is unproductive. Games give us clearer missions and more satisfying hands-on work.

Daily missions, quests, and goals that are tied to rewards that are understood by the user can provide a sense of gratification and accomplishment as well as get the results that the gamification provider wants to see from their users.

4) REALITY NEEDS Better hope of success: Compared to games, reality is hopeless. Games eliminate our fear of failure and improve our chances for success. 

Allowing users to make mistakes that they can learn from and creating an experience where that may even be encouraged through training, etc., allows the product to train a user in its correct usage. Continually providing clear goals gives direction and ensuring that the user sees their progress gives direction toward that success.

5) REALITY NEEDS Stronger social connectivity: Compared to games, reality is disconnected. Games build stronger social bonds and lead to more active social networks. The more time we spend interacting within our social networks, the more likely we are to generate a subset of positive emotions known as "prosocial emotions." 

Creating ways for users to interact is vital. This can be as simple as allowing users to see their progress on a leaderboard, and can progress to allowing users to post their progress on their "real" social networks. The more social interactivity, the better.

6) REALITY NEEDS Epic Scale: Compared to games, reality is trivial. Games make us a part of something bigger and give epic meaning to our actions. 

This can be done by adding an epic story to the product or finding a way to tie in a user's efforts to real world solutions. There are small games like Free Rice http://freerice.com that tie your educational efforts to providing rice to the poor. This simple implementation can be very inspirational to users. Seeing the overall benefit (how much rice has been donated) gives your efforts a greater sense of purpose.  


PART TWO - "The Benefits of Alternate Realities"

What is Alternate Reality? 
It is where you "play" your real life in order to enjoy it more. (Definition of a game "Playing a game is the voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles.").

7) REALITY NEEDS Wholehearted participation: Compared to games, reality is hard to get into. Games motivate us to participate more fully in whatever we're doing.

Reaching a state of "flow" is much easier in a game environment. This allows people to concentrate more on their activities. When your goals are clearly outlined and they tie into your perception of the product's epic scale, your involvement is complete.

8) REALITY NEEDS Meaningful rewards when we need them most: Compared to games, reality is pointless and unrewarding. Games help us feel more rewarded for making our best effort.

People love knowing that they are doing the right thing. Instantaneously providing positive feedback as the user moves through the product gives a sense of confidence they are making progress. Tying rewards to regular activities that may be repetitive in real life provides a sense of purpose for those users.

Using leaderboards and seeing instantaneously where you rank is an example, as is being able to share your progress socially.

Games can also adjust their difficulty and their flow based upon user success. Gamified products should be able to adjust as well. 

9) REALITY NEEDS More fun with strangers: Compared to games, reality is lonely and isolating. Games help us band together and create powerful communities from scratch. 

Playing the same game allows opportunities to express admiration for one another, become devoted to a common goal, and express sympathy for others' losses.

Two strong prosocial emotions are Happy Embarrassment and Vicarious Pride. Happy Embarrassment can be as simple as beating someone in a game of checkers and saying "I win." Good natured teasing actually helps people like each other. Vicarious Pride is something that comes from helping others succeed, like teaching someone how to play a game at harder levels or get them oriented with a new control mechanism.

Having open discussion boards linked to the product takes the experience to a new level, as new ideas and feedback are encouraged and taken to heart by the developer of the product. 

When people want to talk about your product, you are winning. When they don't, there is something wrong and you have to fix it.

10) REALITY NEEDS Happiness hacks: Compared to games, reality is hard to swallow. Games make it easier to take good advice and try out happier habits.

Finding ways to be positive to one another in a game setting can create happiness. This can be done as simply as congratulating someone for hitting a certain spot on a leaderboard or smiling at them as you see them playing. 

PART THREE - "The Engagement Economy"

What is Crowdsourcing?
Quite simply, it is "outsourcing a job to a crowd of people." And if you think of community as crowdsourcing, you can cultivate crowdsourcing in many ways you may not have considered before.

Good game community requires two things: "plenty of positive social interaction and a meaningful context for collective effort."

Finally, community is tied together by a "sense of meaning created by belonging and contributing to an epic project."

11) REALITY NEEDS A sustainable engagement economy: Compared to games, reality is unsustainable. The gratifications we get from playing games are an infinitely renewable resource.

Good games create a robust and rewarding investment path that is supported by consistent, rich and secure incentives that drive player behavior toward having fun and investing in their characters, and then validating those systems through intense simulation.

In the best games:
  • Players feel invested in the world and character. 
  • Players have long term goals.
  • Players cannot exploit the game or each other.
  • The game content is a reward in itself.
12) REALITY NEEDS More epic wins: Compared to games, reality is unambitious. Games help us define awe-inspiring goals and tackle seemingly impossible social missions together. 

Epic Wins can be cultivated by creating opportunities to do something right now, presenting clear instructions, and finely tuning them to our moment-by-moment capabilities.

Examples of Epic Wins: an underdog comes from behind and wins the Super Bowl or someone decides that they want to get to a really high sales goal that they set for themself.

13) REALITY NEEDS Ten thousand hours collaborating. Compared to games, reality is disorganized and divided. Games help us make a more concerted effort - and over time, they give us collaboration superpowers. 

Cooperating (acting purposefully toward a goal), coordinating (synchronizing efforts and sharing resources), and cocreating (producing a novel outcome together).

Collaborating is not just about achieving a goal or joining forces, It's about creating something together that would be impossible to create alone.

14) REALITY NEEDS Massively multiplayer foresight: Reality is stuck in the present. Games help us imagine and invent the future together.

The ability for a game to affect people in a way that makes them want to save the world, one small interaction at a time, is powerful. The WalMart game "My Sustainability" Plan is a strong example. Make one change and see how it changes your life, and it can continue to affect others.

---------------------------

What do YOU think? Any of this ring true for your gamification efforts? 

---------------------------

Billy Joe Cain is a gamification subject matter expert that has been providing gamification solutions to educational companies and game testing companies since 2010. 

Alongside his gamification consulting, he is an executive producer in the video game industry and has worked for Electronic Arts and started three game studios in Austin, TX. Since 1992, he has created games such as Wing Commander: Prophecy and SpongeBob SquarePants: Revenge of the Flying Dutchman. 

Please connect with him on LinkedIn! www.linkedin.com/in/billyjoecain. Mention you read this blog for bonus points!


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